By Chris Lotsbom, @ChrisLotsbom
(c) 2017 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
EUGENE, Ore., USA (08-Jun) — San Francisco’s Charlotte Taylor fought back the urge to strike midway through the women’s 10,000m here at the 2017 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships. The decision paid off mightily, as the Spalding, England, native had enough gas in the tank to cover the final lap in 68.09 seconds and win the national title over New Mexico’s Alice Wright and Kansas’s Sharon Lokedi. Her win was unexpected, and the first-ever national track or field title for the University of San Francisco, a university note widely known for its sports programs.
“I think it hasn’t really sunk in yet,” said Taylor, giggling with glee. “I just felt really great and the race played out just how I would’ve liked. And I was able to finish off in the end, so I’m super happy.”
Taylor played the patience game as long as she could, covering 24 laps of the track without touching the lead. When she heard the bell and saw a slight gap open on the inside of Wright, she bit. That was all it took. “I guess I just saw it and went for it, and once I made my move I knew I had to make that my move and just ran as hard as I could to the line,” said the newly crowned champion.
As expected, Notre Dame’s Anna Rohrer pushed the pace early on, stringing the field out over the opening kilometers. Yet just after halfway (hit in 16:28.3), Rohrer went from first all the way back to tenth and was visibly struggling. Little did anyone know that Rohrer had been running with a herniated disk in her back, which she’d been dealing with for the last two months. A pair of epidurals during the season got her to this point, but the Indiana native simply couldn’t match the group up front.
“I’d just been hoping, you know, hopefully I’d be able to get through the first half and maintain that pace, but it was just a struggle to be able to pick up my legs,” said a teary Rohrer, struggling to put the pain and heartache into words. Rohrer said the discomfort in her back was manageable through halfway, but the injury quickly zapped any pop and speed out of her legs. She felt as if she was going to fall the rest of the way, but continued on despite screams from her coaches that it was OK to drop out. “Clearly tonight was not who I am.” She paused a moment to gather herself. “I am happy that I went ahead and finished because I’m not a person to give up. My coach told me stop and I didn’t.”
As Rohrer dropped back, Wright continued to push the pace joined only by Taylor, Lokedi, and eventually Colorado’s Erin Clark. Clark had worked her way back to the group, but was dropped with about three kilometers left.
Fueled by a runner-up spot last year, Wright wanted badly to make the jump to the top of the podium. She was fine leading, as that had reduced the number of challengers to two. But Taylor was there, and she was champing at the bit.
“It’s always a bit difficult when there’s lots of people around to start with, but I just stayed calm and as it strung out I felt good at that pace, and I still had something left at the end,” Taylor said.
Wright had no idea how much pop Taylor had left in her legs. At the bell, Taylor unleashed a sprint that instantly gave her ten meters on Wright and the fading Lokedi. The gap would stay the same through the line, where Taylor earned San Francisco ten points and the title in 32:38.57. Wright was second in 32:42.64; Lokedi third in 32:46.10.
“We talked about being patient. I was feeling so good that that was difficult at stages. I didn’t know when I should make my move, but I stuck to the plan and it paid off,” said Taylor, a former elite triathlete. “I really had set my eyes on being an all-American at the end of the season, so to come away with a win is just like my wildest dream.”
Wright was frustrated with her runner-up spot for the second consecutive year, but commended Taylor for her finish. The two Brits have a history racing each other back home, and even roomed together at the European Cross Country Championships. “You know, I got second last year and I think I was happier with second last year than I am with it this year. Everybody wants to win this year. Not that I didn’t last year, but I just felt like coming second last year made me hungry to win this year. But you know, I’m grateful, so grateful to get top-three and I can’t complain with second at NCAA’s.”
Rounding out the top five was Montana State’s Alyssa Snyder in 32:58.31, followed by Clark (33:03.22). Rohrer eventually crossed a valiant 16th in 33:56.64, beating eight women.
OREGON ADVANCES TWO IN 800M PRELIMS
Oregon’s Raevyn Rogers proved why she is a four-time NCAA 800m champion (indoors and out), moving in the final 200 meters to win the second heat going away in 2:05.63. Yet a fellow Duck may have drawn a louder cheer from the dedicated and knowledgeable Hayward Field fans. Brooke Feldmeier stayed patient in heat-three until a gap opened up in the last turn. The junior took advantage and surged down the stretch to the crowd’s growing crescendo of noise. Hitting the line first in 2:03.43, Feldmeier immediately turned and formed an ‘O’ with her hands in homage of their support.
“I was just so excited. This is my third outdoor nationals [and] I’ve never made a final out here before. This is my home track, and I just wanted to make something happen,” the bubbly Feldmeier said. Added motivation came from knowing the Ducks are in contention to complete the triple crown, winning the NCAA cross country, indoor, and outdoor team titles. “I think that’s one of the biggest motivators I had. I wanted to come out here and make that final and contribute to the team points, cause if we win that triple crown I want to say I made the final and scored two points for that.”
Feldmeier’s heat was the fastest of the three; she was followed across the line by Virginia Tech’s Hanna Green (2:03.72), Vanderbilt’s Courtney Clayton (2:04.24), and BYU’s Shea Collinsworth (2:04.30). Notably fading badly in the final stretch was Texas A&M star Jazmine Fray. She’d only manage a sixth place finish, and failed to advance.
Oklahoma State’s Kaylee Dodd chased down Stanford’s Olivia Baker to win heat one, 2:04.35 to 2:04.74. Not advancing was Villanova’s Siofra Cleirigh Buttner (2:07.14, fifth in heat two).
Both pre-meet favorites in the women’s 3000m steeplechase controlled their respective heats, but didn’t come out on top. New Hampshire’s Elinor Purrier and Boise State’s Allie Ostrander were most comfortable running at the front of the field, helping to dwindle their heats into small breakaway packs.
Out of habit, Purrier stepped on a majority of the barriers lap after lap. “I think I can do it just as fast as anybody can hurdle them, so that’s a decision we made prior to this race,” she’d say about the unique form. “I feel like I almost need less space [to do it].” Knowing that four women –herself, Colorado’s Madison Boreman, Utah’s Grayson Murphy, and Providence’s Brianna Ilarda– were clear of the field, Purrier shut it down after the final hurdle and cruised through the line second in 9:52.59. Winning was Boreman in 9:51.00.
“Just keeping in the back of my mind that I have to race again in two days. Knowing that I just had to be in the top five and not trying to waste any energy, I just kept my spot and I was happy with that,” said Purrier. “I tend to get a little impatient sometimes, just hanging in there and keeping my spot.”
Similarly, Ostrander and Penn State’s Tori Gerlach helped the second section turn into a four-woman race with 600 meters to go. In only her third collegiate steeplechase, Ostrander ran a comfortable lifetime best 9:50.55 to finish third behind a kicking Hope Schmelzle of Northern Illinois (9:50.51) and Gerlach (9:50.54).
The highlight of her race came in the mixed zone, when Ostrander responded to questions about her taking up the steeplechase. In addition to being motivated by her cousins and sister –also steeplechasers from Alaska– Ostrander revealed she actually has a hurdling pedigree.
“I don’t mean to brag, but I was third place in the Kenai Peninsula Borough Middle School Championships 100m hurdles race. That was in eighth grade. So, it was kind of a big deal. I’m surprised you guys didn’t know that already,” she said straight-faced, drawing laughs from the group. She in fact did hurdles both in middle school and high school (Race Results Weekly can confirm her 100m Hurdle middle school PB is 17.52 seconds. She was also a middle school triple jumper with a best of 8.41 meters). Ostrander still plans to double on Saturday, running the 5000m an hour after the steeplechase final.
JONES LEADS 1500M QUALIFIERS; EDWARDS OUT
Dani Jones of Colorado was fastest among the 1500m qualifiers, winning a wild first heat in 4:10.74. Notre Dame’s Jessica Harris burst out of the gate with an opening lap of 63.2 seconds, gapping the field by 15 meters. The aggressive pace would give Harris a 30-meter lead at 800m (2:09.42), which she’d maintain hitting the bell. Yet the wheels began to fall off around the Bowerman Curve, just when Jones and the field were turning on their kicks.
Jones and five others would pass Harris with 50 meters left, then another contender –2015 NCAA 1500m champion Rhianwedd Price– nipped Harris at the line. Harris had let a 35 meter lead slip away in the span of 30 lactic-acid-filled seconds.
“It was a little bit scary,” said the Fighting Irish sophomore of being tracked down. She wound up seventh in 4:12.14. “I’m moving up from the 800m, so I’m comfortable anywhere from 63 to 67 [per lap]. Any slower just feels like -at the beginning of a race or second 400- feels a little bit too slow and uncomfortable.”
Second and third in the race went to Arkansas junior Nikki Hiltz (4:10.80) and Fresno State senior Annemarie Schwanz (4:10.93).
Harris wound up being the last qualifier into the final based on her time, as the second section lagged mid-way through. Reigning NCAA Indoor mile champion Karisa Nelson of Samford won a six-woman sprint to the line, just ahead of the Aragon sisters: Stanford freshman Christina (4:19.08) and Notre Dame senior Danielle (4:19.13). Oregon’s Katie Rainsberger was fourth in 4:19.21. Kaela Edwards of Oklahoma State, the 2016 NCAA Indoor Championships mile champion, failed to advance, finishing sixth in the second section.
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With the alternating male/female format here, the men’s team competition concludes Friday, with distance events including the 800m, 1500m, 5000m, and 3000m steeplechase. Women’s action will continue Saturday, the final day of the four-day meet.
PHOTO: Charlotte Taylor of the University of San Francisco sprints to the 2017 NCAA 10,000m title at Hayward Field at the University of Oregon in 32:38.57 (photo by Chris Lotsbom for Race Results Weekly)